TV review: Hold the Sunset

After 39 years away, John Cleese returns to the sitcom format with a cosy affair

A mere three years ago, John Cleese enjoyed a good old rant at the BBC, accusing their commissioning editors of being clueless, and insisting he would never work for the corporation again. In an almost inevitable twist-of-heart, here he is popping up on Hold the Sunset, a cosy Sunday evening sitcom, pitched as far as you could possibly get from his adrenaline-fuelled masterpiece, Fawlty Towers.

While Cleese imperiously played the bitter Torquay hotelier Basil who was trapped in a claustrophobic job and cloying relationships, Hold the Sunset's Phil has it more or less made. A monied pensioner, he's keen to spend the remainder of his life with neighbour and old flame Edith (Alison Steadman) who seems on the verge of succumbing to his intentions. Sadly, disappointment arrives at her door in the shape of 50-year-old son Roger (Jason Watkins) who has just left his wife Wendy (Rosie Cavaliero) and kids to return home and play with model airplanes in the garden shed.

The show suffers a slow beginning as Phil tries to suss out the real motivations behind Roger and his sister Sandra (Joanna Scanlan) suddenly becoming more interested in their mother's life. But things heat up a little as Phil fends off nemeses such as the dog-walking Dugdale (Peter Egan), his long-time stalker Desirée (Shobna Gulati) and a one-armed petty thief (James Cosmo) who was Edith's childhood crush. The jokes are mild and the banter bearable, with a wry and sly Cleese raising his voice just once in the course of the first two hours.

Fawlty Towers may have ended almost 40 years ago, but it remains a pinnacle of the sitcom form. As mildly enjoyable as it becomes through the series, it's unlikely that many people will still be talking about Hold the Sunset come the summer.

Hold the Sunset starts on BBC One, Sunday 18 February, 7.30pm. Episodes watched: 1–4 of 6.

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